Gynecomastia is a condition that affects men. It occurs when the breast tissues of male start growing, causing “man boobs.” Gynecomastia is caused by an imbalanced level of estrogen and testosterone in men. This condition can affect one or both breasts with uneven breast tissue growth.
Although gynecomastia is not life threatening, it can be a source of embarrassment, especially among older men. While gynecomastia goes away on its own, recurring breast growth is corrected through surgery or medications.
Gynecomastia Signs and Symptoms
The most common signs of gynecomastia are swollen breast tissues, tenderness and pain in and around the breast. The nipple may also discharge clear fluid.
All people, male and female, generate both testosterone and estrogen. Breast enlargement in men is caused by an unstable level of these hormones wherein the testosterone level is decreased compared to estrogen. Gynecomastia is typically triggered by hormonal changes, certain medications, and an underlying medical condition.
Gynecomastia can affect infants and older men alike. In infants, more than half of male babies are born with enlarged breast due to the effects of the mother’s estrogen. However, the breast tissue will reduce in size within two weeks after birth.
For teens going through puberty, gynecomastia is triggered by the sudden changes in the hormone level. Usually, the breasts will go back to normal 6 months to 2 years after hitting puberty. In older men, gynecomastia peaks between the ages of 50 to 80. It’s so common that 1 in 4 men between these age groups is afflicted with gynecomastia.
Gynecomastia also serves as a symptom for tumors, hypogonadism, hyperthyroidism, kidney failure, liver failure, and malnutrition.
Gynecomastia is also caused by side effects to certain drugs. Spironolactone, Calcium channel blockers, and some antibiotics can cause breast gland swelling. Tea tree oil and lavender oil can also trigger gynecomastia.
The treatment will depend on the cause of gynecomastia. Usually, gynecomastia will go away on its own. But if it’s caused by an undiagnosed condition – such as liver cirrhosis or hypogonadism, treatment is needed.
If the condition is caused by side effects to certain drugs, your doctor will give you alternative drugs instead. For teens afflicted with gynecomastia, the doctor will recommend periodic re-evaluation every 3 to 6 months to see if the condition regresses over time. If the condition does not go away in less than two years, the doctor could prescribe certain medications such as tamoxifen and raloxifene.
Medications for gynecomastia are often used to treat breast cancer. Although these drugs are FDA approved, they are not approved specifically to treat gynecomastia.
If say, the condition is not regressing and it’s causing the patient pain despite the medications, the doctor may recommend surgery. There are two types of gynecomastia surgeries: liposuction and mastectomy.
Liposuction is conducted by surgically removing the breast fat but not the breast gland itself. Mastectomy requires the complete removal of the breast gland tissue. The surgeon will make small incisions to remove the breast gland tissue. Because this is not a major operation, recovery time is very short.